This open letter calls on UK university vice chancellors to reject the notion that is currently being promoted that “sex work is real work” and to instead support the Nordic Model Now! Handbook for Universities.
If you are an academic and would like to add your signature to the letter, please add your name here.
8 March 2022
Aspirational Education – why ‘sex work’ should be rejected by universities
We are a group of academics, university staff and students concerned about the normalisation of ‘sex work’ in universities via the promotion of the ‘Sex Work Toolkit’ and training developed by Leicester University, which is being rolled out to universities all around the UK with funding from the ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council).
We are concerned that university administrations have been institutionally captured by a pro-prostitution lobby. We believe that the values of the porn industry are not compatible with the values of universities which exist to promote aspiration and equality.
The burden of prostitution falls hardest on women whose entry into higher education is marked by challenges.
Students typically incur significant debts during their time at university, and maintenance loans and grants are generally not enough to live on.
In order to ensure that the burden of the aspirational value of widening education does not fall hardest on women and the poorest sections of society, we urge universities to abandon efforts to normalise prostitution and pornography as viable means of income.
Universities’ promotion of Leicester’s ‘Sex Work Toolkit’ is an attack on women and girls, who should be experiencing university as an aspirational milestone in their lives. Instead, this toolkit grooms young women to consider prostitution as a viable stream of income to finance their studies. The realities of prostitution are likely to entrench disadvantage and exploitation. The toolkit fails to address the psychological and physical traumas that result from participation in prostitution and its links to organised crime and sex trafficking.
Now that university administrators have stepped into this terrain, it is vitally important they provide information and guidance to students that covers the widest possible number of issues about life in prostitution: in street, brothel, escorting, porn or indirectly via webcams and Onlyfans. Therefore we urge universities to withdraw their support for the Leicester Sex Work Toolkit and instead support the Nordic Model Now! Supporting Students Impacted by the Sex Industry: Handbook for Universities. This handbook was informed by survivors of prostitution, some of whom opted for the sex trade as a means to pay for student costs and ended up paying a high price in terms of damage to their health and wellbeing and career prospects.
We ask university leaders to watch this video by Andrea Heinz – a survivor from Canada who was in the sex trade for many years and now works with institutions to raise awareness of its harms. You can watch the video here:
This is a moment for universities to take seriously their responsibilities for the welfare of students. We urge you to reject any normalisation of prostitution and, where necessary, to withdraw the Leicester ‘Sex Work Toolkit’ and training. Should you wish to discuss these issues further, Nordic Model Now! can offer advice and training.
UK academics and university staff:
- Kathleen Richardson, Professor of Ethics and Culture of Robots & AI, De Montfort University
- Maureen O’Hara, Senior Lecturer in Law, Coventry University
- Dr Anni Donaldson, Honorary Research Fellow, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland.
- Shirley MacWilliam, Associate Lecturer, Ulster University
- Kathleen Stock, Former Professor of Philosophy, University of Sussex
- Peter Jenkins, Senior Lecturer in Counselling (Retired), Manchester University
- Shereen Benjamin, Senior Lecturer in Primary Education, University of Edinburgh
- Dr Alison McClean, Lecturer, University of the West of England, Bristol
- Katie Alcock, Senior Lecturer, Lancaster University
- Emma Hilton, Postdoctoral researcher, PhD, University of Manchester
- Ellen Pasternack, PhD Researcher, University of Oxford
- Susan Hogan, Professor of Arts and Health, University of Derby
- Selina Wallis, Public Involvement Manager ARC NWC, University of Liverpool
- Debbie Epstein, Professor Emerita, University of Roehampton
- Dr Helen Rogers, Research Associate, Liverpool John Moores University
- Andrew Hobbs, Senior lecturer, University of Central Lancashire
- Jay Sutherland, Communications and ethics committee, Strathclyde Students In Solidarity, University of Strathclyde
- Holly Lawford-Smith, Associate Professor in Political Philosophy, University of Melbourne
- Kathleen Lowrey, Associate Professor, Anthropology, University of Alberta
- Viviane Morrigan, Lecturer (retired), University of Queensland
- Raúl Colón, Part-time Professor, University of Ottawa
- Alex Simonelis, researcher, Dawson College
- Rachel Altman, Associate Professor, Simon Fraser University
- Michael Flood, Associate Professor, Queensland University of Technology
- Caroline Norma, Senior lecturer, RMIT University, Australia
- Donna M. Hughes, Eleanor M and Oscar M Carlson Endowed Chair, University of Rhode Island, USA
- Eleanor Cowan, Retired Teacher, Concordia University
- Angie Henderson, Professor of Sociology, University of Northern Colorado
- McKenna Miller, Graduate Teaching Assistant, University of Northern Colorado
- Dr Méabh Savage, Lecturer in social care, WIT, Ireland
- Mihaela Stanescu, Student, Queen Mary University of London
- Calum Anderson, Student, University of Western Ontario
- Mathew Giagnorio, Student, Brock University
- Alix O’Hanlon-Alexandra, Sociology undergraduate, Northumbria University
- Cynthia Hoang, Student & Founder of Vancouver Anti-Porn Society, University of British Columbia
- Naama Goldberg, Doctoral student, Bar Ilan university, Israel
- Arian Anger, Dipl Homeopath, Ex. MA Lampeter Creative Writing
- Denise Wightman, Teacher, University of Leicester alumna
- Glendyne Gerrard, Director, Defend Dignity
- Eleanor Cowan, Retired Teacher, Canadian Author, Concordia University
- Megan Lundstrom, CEO, The Avery Center for Research and Services
- Casandra Diamond, Founder and Executive Director, BridgeNorth Women’s Mentorship & Advocacy Services
- Evelyn Vollet, Coordinator, VCASE
- Brenda Saffrett, AMICDA, Board Member of Pink Cross Foundation Australia, Student of the Institute of Community Directors Australia